Gambia Trip Report 30th January to 6th February 2007
January in England was cold and bleak, so it was with great anticipation we set off for Gatwick and our flight to The Gambia for a week's birding. Checking in was smooth though we had been advised to arrive three hours before flight time, which gave us plenty of time to browse through the airside shops and have a leisurely breakfast. The flight left on time and was comfortable and uneventful.
Views of the Sahara Desert caused excitement amongst passengers and the landing at Banjul International Airport at Yundum brought us our first Gambian birds with Cattle Egrets, Black Kites and Pied Crows welcoming us back to The Gambia.
Yundum Airport Arrivals proved to be the most chaotic we have experienced and though we were checked through Passport Control fairly quickly the baggage area was heaving with people from three incoming flights. There was limited seating, it was extremely hot and we were glad to have brought some bottled water from the plane. With only one X-ray conveyor operating it was an exhausting two hours before we could make our way through Customs to be greeted by two of our hosts from Halcyon Gambia Bob Randell and his son Philip, complete with cool drinks and very comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to take us to our destination in Bijilo. This business has now been sold (Nov 2012) and renamed Phoenix Lodge.
We had hoped to do some birding on the way but the delay in Arrivals caused us to have little time to do more than look from the vehicle, though we did manage our first Hooded Vultures, with Pied Kingfishers and Blue-bellied Rollers on the roadside wires. There were innumerable but unidentified doves to add interest (and not a little frustration!) to our drive.
On arrival at Halcyon we were greeted by Bob's wife Jane and Philip's wife Clare, who together with their husbands own and run Halcyon Gambia (see above re change of business). Philip is the primary driving force behind Halcyon Gambia and a keen birder. He was to accompany us on all our birding trips.
As we were shown our ground floor accommodation in a very attractive two-storey round house built in the traditional Gambian style, we were delighted to see a male Beautiful Sunbird in the lemon tree and to hear the unmistakeable and reverberating call of a Yellow-crowned Gonolek coming from the large mango tree in the corner of the Halcyon Gambia grounds. Common Bulbuls were darting in the nearby trees and Village Weavers flying past in flocks.
There were Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleus pecking away to one side, a Laughing Dove and a Mourning Dove, all just a few yards away. To add to the interest was a large brown cricket on one wall, and nearby a dragonfly that was so well camouflaged it almost went unnoticed.
The swimming pool looked wonderfully inviting, but we unpacked first and then had a leisurely and enjoyable dinner. Our guide for the week, Mustapha Manneh, arrived and we spent an interesting hour going over our expectations for the week and discussing the flexible itinerary he and Philip had outlined in order for us to get the most out of our stay. Mustapha turned out to be a very pleasant and well-informed young man, with a good sense of humour and a good grasp of our own English humour a promising start! We then headed for bed, wanting an early night in order to be ready for our 7.30 am start the following day.
The day started with a surprisingly brisk wind, though it was pleasantly warm. A good breakfast as the sun rose brought us the sounds of the birds awakening and with great anticipation we climbed aboard the Nissan Patrol where Philip and Mustapha were already waiting (and we were on time!) and set off for Kotu Creek.
With the sun warming up and the breeze still brisk it was a pleasant start to the day and we stood for a while at Kotu Bridge where we saw a Whimbrel, a Common Sandpiper, an Intermediate Egret, Common Redshanks, more Pied Kingfishers and a Western Reef Heron. Senegal Thick-knees were present as well as Caspian Terns and high in the acacias were two Red-billed Hornbills. On the wire was a Broad-billed Roller giving us lovely views of its stunning colours.
Leaving the bridge, we crossed the road and began our walk across the fields heading towards Kotu Sewage Ponds. Walking across the fields can be interesting as the ground is quite uneven in places. We were glad of sturdy walking shoes but even so had to be careful to keep to paths and watch where we were treading. Ahead of us on one path were small birds Bronze Mannikins, Red-billed Firefinches, Lavender Waxbills and Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleus that scattered as we passed, only to land just a few feet away and then return to the path once we were clear.
Mustapha led the way, stopping every now and then, listening all the time and occasionally he would freeze before continuing. At one point he stopped near a stand of tall grasses and whispered excitedly that there was a Yellow-throated Longclaw just the other side. We all quickly got our bins trained on the spot and sure enough, there it was, fluttering above the grass only to quickly disappear from sight.
Mustapha indicated to us to stay where we were and he quietly walked around the grass to locate the bird. Using hand signals he called us around in the other direction and there, on the ground, were two Yellow-throated Longclaws, quite unconcerned by our presence and so we watched them until it was time to continue our walk.
We resumed our search for new birds, with any movement catching the eye and saw a Zitting Cisticola and a Tawny-flanked Prinia as well as a Fork-tailed Drongo perched on a low palm, the unmistakeable tail backlit against the palm leaf. A Lizard Buzzard was high in an Oil Palm.
Following Mustapha with Philip bringing up the rear meant as well as our own we had two pairs of keen eyes at either end of our little troop and occasionally there'd be an urgent whisper from the back and we would lock on to one of the many small birds skulking in the undergrowth. With all trip members looking keenly there was a constant flow of sightings as we made our way through the fields, including a Melodious Warbler and a Chiffchaff. A Shikra was seen flying over and Brown Babblers were seen (and heard!) as were the many Village Weavers that are so common. Overhead were Palm Swifts and many doves including Red-eyed Doves and Speckled Pigeons.
One aspect of visiting The Gambia that is so nice is the opportunity to discover more about the flora and fauna and so, as we walked, it was a delight to realise Mustapha was a wealth of information, about plants and their traditional and medicinal uses and about the small creatures we occasionally saw scurrying away, such as Ground Squirrels and Agama Lizards. The flowers of the Red Silk Cotton Tree and Giant Milkweed were beautiful.
Mustapha led us in the direction of the Kotu Sewage Ponds and stopped beneath a large tree, peering into it until he suddenly beckoned us to come and stand next to him and look up. We did and were rewarded with the wonderful sight of a White-faced Scops Owl peering down at us from a branch. It was wonderfully exciting a lifer for me and one bird I had so longed to see on previous trips but had always just missed. Mustapha had an amusing points system for spotting birds, the difficulty and rarity value. We decided the Scops Owl was definitely a 30 pointer!
We left the Owl and found ourselves at the sewage ponds, where we were treated to a feast for the eyes as Black-winged Stilts, Common Greenshanks, White-faced Whistling Ducks and Little Grebes were just the start of the list! There were Spur-winged Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers and Marsh Sandpipers by the water, and in the trees a Western Grey Plantain Eater, Lizard Buzzard, a Violet Turaco, Senegal Parrots and Rose-ringed Parakeets. Just visible in the undergrowth were White-billed Buffalo Weavers and the arrival of a Black Kite caused us to watch for a few minutes as it drank its fill at the edge of a pond, before flapping lazily away into the distance.
The Kotu Ponds are a strange mixture of functionality and beauty, with the wonderful bird life and also the beautiful flowers, such as Bougainvillea, transforming an otherwise ugly area into something attractive. Even the smell was absent on this visit!
Leaving the ponds we walked to the Casino Cycle Track and made our way past the women doing their washing by the loofah trees to the lily ponds, where new species were African Jacanas, including one with young, a Black Crake, Grey Heron and a Wood Sandpiper. We left the Cycle Track and made our way back to the bridge via a small turning to the left, where we picked up a Malachite Kingfisher, Black Egret, Little Bee-eaters, an Abyssinian Roller and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
Leaving the bridge, we headed off to Bijilo Forest Park where we quickly passed by the visitors feeding Green Vervet Monkeys and Red Colobus Monkeys and saw a ground squirrel dash for cover. We followed the path to walk alongside the shore. An early find was an Oriole Warbler, plus African Thrush and Blackcap Babblers. A Grey Hornbill was loudly displaying at the top of a palm stump but overall the forest was very quiet, as the heat built up into late morning.
We decided lunch was in order, so made our way to the Paradise Beach restaurant near Fajara Golf Course, where we had an enjoyable meal and a welcome cold drink. As we left the restaurant we found the familiar access to the golf course completely blocked, which necessitated a detour to gain access from a different point.
An exciting early sighting on the course was an African Harrier Hawk lazily flapping above the trees and both a Blue-bellied Roller and a Rufous-crowned Roller that gave wonderful photo opportunities. Wattled Plovers were everywhere as were Black-headed Plovers and there was a brief glimpse of a Giant Kingfisher as it flashed along the creek. Green Wood Hoopoes gave us close views and as we made our way back there was a lucky sighting of a Fine-spotted Woodpecker.
Weary but pleased, we headed back to Halcyon after a very good first day's birding for our trip, with almost 100 species seen.
Another 7.30am departure meant we arrived at Brufut Woods while the air was still comfortable. We parked on the track and almost the first bird we saw was another White-faced Scops Owl, roosting by the track. We walked a little way, getting a good sighting of a Klaas's Cuckoo, African Green Pigeon and a Paradise Flycatcher which proved elusive for a while in deep shade and in the end was not showing well enough to determine which kind. A Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird landed in a nearby small tree and suddenly the rare Yellowbill was seen by three members of the group as it headed for cover in the bush.
Leaving the vehicle we walked into the woods and found our way to the hide with the pool full of water and many birds bathing and drinking. An early sighting of an Orange-cheeked Waxbill caused excitement, along with a male Northern Red Bishop and Black-billed Wood Dove. Grey-headed Sparrows were busy drinking and bathing alongside the splashing Village Weavers. A Green Turaco gave us good views as we headed back to the vehicle.
Back on the track we parked again a little further on and walked a little way. We spotted three Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on a donkey and Yellow-fronted Canaries in a nearby tree. Good close views of a Black-crowned Tchagra and a Northern Crombec completed a pleasant visit. We had a quick bite of our packed lunch, complete with a good sighting of a Stone Partridge, then headed off to the coast.
We made our way to Tanji and the fish market, which we walked through to get to the beach. It was busy there, with fishermen and gulls as far as the eye could see. The Kelp Gulls were enormous and we saw Grey-headed, Yellow-legged and Slender-billed Gulls as well. There were Caspian Terns patrolling the beach, Little Terns just off-shore, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings running over the rocks, as well as a Ringed Plover on the sand. A Western Reef Heron was standing like a statue and we had the thrill of an Osprey over, complete with very large fish. A White Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail fluttered on the beach and Hooded Vultures and Pied Crows searched alongside the gulls for fish discarded by the fishermen. As we walked back there were Red-chested Swallows on the wires by the road.
From Tanji we drove south to Tujering, parked, then walked along a track, spotting a Black-shouldered Kite over and another Lizard Buzzard perched. Mustapha showed us a roosting adult Verreaux's Eagle Owl a magnificent bird and the largest owl found in The Gambia. Just a few yards away in a palm tree we could see the youngster in a nest. On our return walk a Pearl-spotted Owlet was heard calling but despite a search we couldn't find it.
The day was proving far hotter than the previous day as there was blue sky, strong sun and no breeze. By then we needed a break and a rest, so headed for the Paradise Inn Lodge at Tanji for a nice cold drink before heading off to Tanji Bird Reserve, where we had super views of a Woodchat Shrike and three Four-banded Sandgrouse heading into the scrub. At the beach there was a nice view over of an African Darter and perched was a Long-tailed Cormorant.
We returned to the vehicle, getting good views of a male Variable Sunbird and headed back to our accommodation for showers and dinner very satisfied after another good day.
We had an early start today as we set off for Tendaba and the Kau-ur Wetlands. We left at 7am and had our first stop at Mandinaba, where we found another African Harrier Hawk perched close by. In the scrub were a Common Wattle Eye and a Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, as well as a Yellow-breasted Apalis.
A short distance away we drove along a dirt track and came upon some Double-spurred Francolins crossing, then we pulled up and stretched our legs while we searched for a Northern Wheatear. Sure enough, there was one on a wall, giving good views.
After leaving Mandinaba we set off on the long and arduous journey towards Tendaba. The roads were not wonderful just a few short areas of decent paved road interspersed with long stretches of dirt track or paved roads in such poor repair that driving was a challenge and a four wheel drive vehicle a necessity!
We had stops on the way, to stretch our legs, look for birds and have a bite to eat. Sightings included Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle and Bateleur. At a small wetland we found Hamerkop, Squacco Heron and Striated Heron. White-crested Helmet Shrikes and an African Golden Oriole were lucky finds and a Dark Chanting Goshawk added another raptor to our growing list.
Our arrival at Tendaba was a little later than we expected but brought us a Bruce's Green Pigeon just before we arrived. We had time to unpack, have a drink and a short walk and still be ready for the pirogue trip across the River Gambia to the Bao Bolon Wetlands, where we spent a leisurely three hours birding and unwinding after our long drive.
Crossing the river immediately brought a sighting of a Lesser Crested Tern and a Sandwich Tern. We had hoped for a sighting of an African Fish Eagle, which are often seen over the river at Tendaba but unfortunately had no luck. As we approached the mangroves an Osprey was perched in a tree and an African Darter on some old branches.
Entering the stillness of the mangrove forest was a welcome change from the bustle of the day and we quickly had good views of Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Malachite Kingfishers and the ubiquitous Pied Kingfishers. A Goliath Heron took off and lazily flapped away down the creek and then suddenly there was great excitement as an African Finfoot was spotted working its way in the water along the bank, between the mangrove roots. We watched for about ten minutes then resumed our leisurely journey, spying familiar waders along the banks, a mongoose scuttling away and the occasional Grey Heron. A wonderful glimpse of a White-backed Night Heron was a thrill, then a sudden call from the other end of the boat had us all peering once again into the mangrove roots and sure enough, there was a massive Giant Clawless Otter slipping into the water then back out again as it dived for fish.
Passing high creek banks with no mangroves brought a couple of group members to their feet, trying to see into the open land beyond. A Woolly-necked Stork was just visible by even the shortest group members and then we settled back down hoping for more glorious sightings. Rounding a bend, we all saw a sudden movement as a large Nile Crocodile slid quietly into the water, disappearing from view. Three hours after we set off and with the sun going down, we chugged back across the river to Tendaba Camp, for dinner and bed.
We had another early start, leaving Tendaba Camp to join the Trans-Gambia Highway at Soma, heading for the cross-river ferry at Bambatenda. Just after we left the camp a Lanner Falcon flew across the road giving us all the chance to get a good view. The roads were as bad as any the previous day, with enormous potholes and sheer drops from the tarmac onto sand below. Our journey to the ferry was slow going but Philip's skilful driving got us there without a hitch.
Whilst waiting for the ferry we had good views of a Hamerkop and a Striated Heron in a tree just by the market and two Plain-backed Pipits on the wires. Just before we set off across The River Gambia, we saw a Palm-nut Vulture and an Osprey flapping slowly back and forth across the river. Across the river the road led to Farafenni, then we turned east on the lookout for Egyptian Plovers.
A chat the previous evening with highly-regarded Gambian birder Solomon Jallow led us to understand the Egyptian Plovers were no longer to be found at Kau-ur, that the wetlands were dry and the plovers had moved further east, a few kilometres further on. The road in this area was very good we travelled quickly and stopped a few times to check out small wetlands on the way. Keeping us company on our drive were Namaqua Doves so many and so pretty with their long black tails and often just flying alongside the road, giving us wonderful views.
At Kau-ur we pulled into the side of the road, carefully avoiding the sheer drop off the tarmac to the earth over a foot below. From this vantage point and in sweltering heat we settled in for a good look around us. There was hardly any water, mostly dry dust, though distant reflections suggested water further away.
Suddenly it was as if the birds had all arrived in one spot. What isn't so obvious whilst driving is just how much there is around and we watched with delight as a Montagu's Harrier flew back and forth in front of us. There was a Marsh Harrier, a Ruppell's Griffon Vulture, a White-backed Vulture, Great White Pelicans and a Marabou Stork all in the sky around us. Collared Pratincoles kept flying past, across the road and back again. There were Black-crowned Sparrow-larks hopping on the ground a few yards away and in well over 40 degrees it was a surprise how many birds were active.
After half an hour we got back into the air-conditioned 4x4 and enjoyed the benefit of the cool vehicle as we set off for the area where we'd been told to look for the Egyptian Plovers. It wasn't long before we pulled in to the side of the road at Najabanta and all clambered out to search for the plovers at the water's edge. Immediately an Egyptian Plover was sighted some distance away and we excitedly got our bins and scopes onto it. Suddenly another one was spotted just a few yards from us - blue, black, white and cream, with a beautiful peach blush underneath. It was exquisite and we had superb views for a few minutes until it flew across the water to a point a little further away, still giving wonderful views for another half an hour until it was time for us to leave.
We clambered back into the vehicle, tired but happy at finding the bird we'd heard so much about. With lots of photos taken we knew we'd got some good shots for the album! It was time to head back to the coast and the decision was made to stay on the north side of the river and catch the ferry at Barra, even though we might have to wait to get on.
The road on the north side of the River Gambia was good in places, but as with the road on the way inland there were stretches of potholes and dirt track. On the whole it was better and gave us the chance to stop occasionally and take a few photographs. One sudden stop brought us a smashing African Hawk Eagle and we also saw a Bateleur, rocking gently high above us.
Along one stretch of highway we came upon a bush fire and realised the birds we could see were Black Kites hundreds of them and they were feasting on locusts driven up by the fire. The sky was alive with the birds a wonderful sight. A mile or so down the road was another fire, again with Kites, then a little way further yet another fire. This time we stopped and watched for a while, taking photos of the Kites in the trees, on the road and filling the sky. There were locusts everywhere. It was the most incredible sight hundreds and hundreds of Kites making the most of the easy prey.
Our drive to Barra was uneventful after that and having caught the ferry with no problems we were back at Bijilo by 7.30pm in time for a shower and dinner. It was a really fantastic inland trip, exhausting but worth every second of bouncing along the dirt tracks!
We had a later start, having had a very tiring two days previously. Abuko Nature Reserve was our first port of call and we parked and set off along the sandy track, leaving the sound of the traffic far behind as we penetrated deeper into the forest.
The sound of birds and animals was all around us and we quickly adjusted to the different environment and soon had spotted a Snowy-crowned Robin-chat flicking over the leaf litter in the undergrowth. There were African Thrushes also on the ground then a Blackcap Babbler was spotted. A Malachite Kingfisher dashed along the first pool and a Little Greenbul was suddenly heard and we had good but brief views as it flew for cover high in the canopy.
The hide was busy though there was little to be seen, so we resumed our walk. Leaving there we came across a Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and a Fork-tailed Drongo, then the delight of a good clear Common Wattle-eye sighting as it called loudly from the trees.
Ahead of us on the path was a small group of birders so we stopped and were treated to exciting views of a Western Bluebill as it picked its way around the scrub. Abuko is one of the few locations where this delightful small bird can be found and the stunning red, black and white plumage together with the distinctive blue bill made this one of our target species. We were delighted to have such good views. Not quite as exciting, but still nice to see nearby were two Grey-headed Bristlebills .
A brief trip to the photographic hide brought nice views of a Blue-spotted Wood Dove next to a Black-billed Wood Dove and a Vinaceous Dove.
Returning to the main hide we found a lot of activity, with a Giant Kingfisher perched just by the hide, an adult Black-crowned Night Heron on a branch, with two immature Night Herons nearby, an African Darter playing with a feather and two Black-headed Herons high in the palms. There were Hamerkops, Yellow- wattled Plovers and a Grey Heron, as well as a Striated Heron and a Common Greenshank by the water's edge. An African Mourning Dove was just by the hide and on the far bank a Red Colobus Monkey was searching for food on the trees.
We stayed for quite a while, watching the activity and spotted a Nile Crocodile just waiting, motionless in the water looking like a log. As we left two Violet Turacos were high in the trees above us and all around were butterflies, never settling but with bright colours even in the gloom of the forest. Suddenly we spotted some beautiful Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and had superb views as they flew up for insects then landed again.
It was time for a welcome break and sit down. There were Green Vervet Monkeys all around us as we headed for the café and Hooded Vultures on the fencing, watching carefully as we headed for the seats and a cold drink. Refreshed, we continued our walk. Beautiful yellow and deep red hibiscus flowers concealed interesting wasp-like insects and sudden movement in the undergrowth had us looking excitedly and peering at our field guides to confirm we were seeing an Ovambo Sparrowhawk on a branch. Delighted with the sighting we made our way back to our vehicle and suddenly came upon a Pygmy Kingfisher, tiny and so well hidden in the shadows but clear enough to determine its identity. It was a wonderful, five hour visit and gave us lovely views of many birds we'd already seen as well as some super new ones for our list.
After leaving Abuko we headed for Lamin Lodge and a two hour break for lunch. The rickety bridge held up well as we crossed the creek, where Mudskippers in the mud were blinking in the sunlight and a shoal of small fish were swimming on the surface, all with mouths open. A brief, tantalising glimpse of a Purple Heron frustrated some in the group who missed it, but a nice lunch soon made up for it! A Pied Kingfisher kept us company on a nearby post and distant sightings of terns and egrets kept livening up our meal.
Leaving Lamin Lodge we headed for the Lamin rice fields, spotting a Eurasian Marsh Harrier on the way. Our path led us through some uneven terrain, walking between the paddy fields, yet soon we saw a Black Crake, a Common Moorhen, African Jacanas and suddenly the delight of two Greater Painted-snipe as they foraged at the edge of the water. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters swooped to drink and a Striated Heron stood on a mangrove branch in the shade of a tree canopy.
Leaving the Lamin rice fields we headed for the Bund Road, to catch the last of the light and see what waders were about on the coastal side of the road. The wires were lined with Pied Kingfishers and doves, and in the low sun we saw a Sacred Ibis digging in the mud, plus Pink-backed Pelicans and terns and gulls as far as the eye could see, but very distant. Confirmed sightings of Black-headed Gulls gave us our first views on this trip. A discussion about some terns resulted in an ID of Lesser-Crested and also a Royal Tern.
In the setting sun we called it a day and headed back to Halcyon for the night.
A nice early start found us heading for Mandinaba and the fields and savannah in the area. The reverberating calls of two Yellow-crowned Gonoleks led us to superb views and displaying African Grey Hornbills high in a Rhun Palm entertained us for a few minutes. We walked past the local villagers working in the fields until suddenly Mustapha stopped, listened and then led the way excitedly to a large tree where he called for a few minutes, until suddenly there was a Pearl-spotted Owlet perched on a branch and looking down at us. A quick scramble for our scopes gave us wonderful views and the owlet obligingly turned on the branch so we could see front and back views. Cameras were well-employed to capture the little bird for posterity.
Leaving Mandinaba we set off for Pirang Shrimp Farm, hoping for a sighting of Black-crowned Cranes. The news wasn't good however, as the access to the farm was restricted, the conditions less attractive to the cranes and recent sightings few and far between. We spent time looking, hoping for a sighting of some flying over but had no luck. By the path were some Crested Larks, however and some Rufous-chested Swallows swooping low over the water. By the creek were Cattle Egrets and Ruddy Turnstones and Pied Kingfishers diving for fish. Greenshanks and Ringed Plovers were soon spotted and Wire-tailed Swallows were perched on the wall. Overhead was a Black Kite and nearby a Western Reef Heron, then an African Spoonbill flew over, giving nice views of its red face and legs, but sadly no Black-crowned Cranes.
Leaving Pirang we headed for the Farabanta bush track where we parked in the shade of a tree before setting off on a walk to see what we could find. Almost the first bird we saw was a beautiful male Scarlet-chested Sunbird and then, in the same tree, a tiny Yellow Penduline Tit busy among the leaves. A walk through the scrub brought us (for the most part) birds we had already seen, until suddenly, overhead, was a magnificent Wahlberg's Eagle, enormous as it drifted away. A Grasshopper Buzzard was spotted flying in the distance, then a short while afterwards closer, in a tree.
By now it was incredibly hot so we made use of the shelter built for visiting birders by a local chap who helps tend the area and keep an eye on the local owls. We had a bite of lunch, a cold drink and a welcome rest out of the sun. Walking back to the car there were lots of locusts including some with red bodies which would suddenly spring into the air as we passed.
Getting back into the 4x4 we set off further down the track in search of a Striped Kingfisher that Mustapha had come across before. Try as we might we couldn't find it, though we could hear it come closer as Mustapha called it to us. Sadly, one that got away! A Greater Honeyguide and Copper Sunbird cheered us up, followed by a White-shouldered Black Tit seen by two of the group.
Our visit to Farabanta over, we had a short drive then parked before a walk through the savannah and to the edge of the agricultural fields. A good sighting of a Grey-headed Woodpecker made the visit worthwhile, though a distant view of a small bird had us confused for a few minutes, until it moved and showed itself to be a Whinchat!
With that we returned to our accommodation for a brief rest before setting out again on a very special drive to Palma Rima. The light was failing as we arrived, so, armed with torches, covered in mosquito repellent and pleasantly weary after another good day, we settled down to wait for nightjars to appear. The location to which we'd been taken is an area of scrub just near the beach. Sadly, civilisation is encroaching and the open ground is shrinking as a hotel complex is being built just nearby.
We were just hoping the Nightjars would appear for us, as we could hear them churring a little way off. Quite suddenly there they were Long-tailed Nightjars, flying backwards and forwards above the low scrub and coming to within a few feet of us and settling on the ground. Strong torches gave us superb views and didn't seem to bother the birds one bit. We watched for half an hour as they flew, landed on fence posts, churred in the distance and gave a wonderful display.
It was time to return to Halcyon, so carefully picking our way back to the vehicle we headed back for our last night in The Gambia.
With our flight home at just before 5pm we knew we had a whole morning for birding. We wanted to see some birds but not get too hot or tired, so the Senegambia Hotel seemed like the perfect choice. We had stayed there in the past and had been thoroughly spoiled by the wonderful gardens, the enormous variety of birds and the easy and close views. As it was just up the road from Bijilo it was very handy.
Our visit was a shock and disappointment. The gardens had been cleared, the hide and pool gone, the birds were few and far between and as a birders' hotel it offered little to attract visitors. We had expected to spend most of the morning birding but in the end just relaxed with a cool drink before saying goodbye to Mustapha, who had been a wonderful guide and good company throughout our week-long visit.
The disappointment of the morning couldn't overshadow the incredible week we had spent birding in The Gambia and our last few hours were wonderfully relaxed in the Halcyon grounds, enjoying the birds and chatting about our experiences and memorable sightings throughout the week.
It was with great regret we gathered our bags and said our goodbyes before setting off for the airport at Yundum and our short flight home.
A wide selection of photos from the trip can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/suerob/sets/72157594525960272/
Photos used to illustrate this report are copyright of Sue Robinson.
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